Three spacewalks to prepare the International Space Station for the arrival of new spacecraft

Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts during one of their spacewalks (Image NASA TV)
Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts during one of their spacewalks (Image NASA TV)

Yesterday, Commander Barry Wilmore and astronaut Terry Virts completed the third spacewalk in eight days to install various new equipment on the International Space Station. They’re part of the system called C2V2 (Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles) that will serve to allow the docking of the new private spacecraft that will enter service in a few years.

The tasks carried out by the two American astronauts would be simple on Earth, in space become very complex. The two astronauts spent a total of about 19 hours during three spacewalks just to make early preparations for subsequent modifications to be made to the International Space Station.

In September 2014, NASA selected the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Dragon V2 projects for the new stage of development of manned spacecraft. They could enter service in 2017 and will dock at the International Space Station using two new IDAs (International Docking Adapter). However, these hatches are only a part of the docking system.

When a spacecraft reaches the International Space Station, a communication is initiated between their computers that allows for a safe approach maneuvering. This means that it was necessary to install a new communication system with several antennas and cables for their power supply and for connection with Station’s systems and crew.

Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts installed various equipment in recent days but the work is far from finished. The two new IDAs will be sent to the International Space Station, in theory in the course of 2015. The first one is supposed to be transported in the CRS-6 mission of the Dragon spacecraft, scheduled for June. The second one is supposed to be transported in the CRS-8 mission, scheduled for December, but typically there are delays so it could start in early 2016.

These works are part of a bigger plan to reconfigure the International Space Station. It will be expanded over time and will be able to accommodate a larger crew. There are doubts about the future of the Station, particularly after 2024, but in the coming years it’s expected to become even more important for the development of science and technology.

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